Anyone wanting to develop new skills can find information to do so on the Internet. While many areas can benefit from one-to-one instruction, tutorials on how to accomplish most things under one’s own steam can be found online.
The majority of online tutorials are completely non-controversial but when it comes to learning skills that have the potential to break the law, things get a little more volatile.
This is particularly evident in the online piracy scene. With just a few clicks of a mouse, people can learn how to obtain content without paying for it, learn how to crack software or bypass anti-piracy mechanisms on pay TV, for example. It’s been this way for at least a couple of decades and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
That’s perhaps why there was such outcry on Reddit this week when a long-standing tutorial on how to pirate Adobe CC was taken down following a copyright complaint.
The tutorial, titled ‘Pirating Adobe CC for Dummies’, was posted in 2016 and was presumably interesting to the many thousands of people who read it, whether they went on to pirate anything or not. However, a takedown notice received by Reddit saw the tutorial removed.
The text that now sits in place of the tutorial doesn’t indicate that the takedown notice was sent by Adobe. However, it seems fairly likely the world-famous software company was behind the effort. In any event, Reddit clearly viewed the tutorial as problematic and removed it.
This ignited a very lively discussion about the legality of the tutorial, with people pointing out that it didn’t link to any unauthorized Adobe content, nor did it directly link to any of the tools required to pirate the company’s software.
Perhaps more surprisingly, however, is that many users turned their anger on Reddit’s admins, who were accused of taking the site in a corporate direction while pleasing shareholders with the takedown of content, this tutorial in particular. In fact, many posts discussed where users of /r/piracy could move to, in order to escape perceived censorship on Reddit.
There are several angles to this issue, none of which are straightforward. TorrentFreak showed the original thread to three lawyers at separate companies while pointing out the lack of links to copyrighted content, to see if this aspect might play a role in the validity of the original claim.
None particularly wanted to commit on whether the tutorial itself was illegal but in off-the-record comments, two independently touched on contributory infringement, “a means by which a person may be held liable for infringement even though he or she did not actually engage in infringing activities.”
TorrentFreak also sought comment from the EFF but at the time of publishing, we were yet to receive a response. Clearly, getting definitive answers on the legality of the tutorial itself wasn’t going to be easy but perhaps that’s the distraction here.
After receiving the complaint, Reddit was compelled by law to take the content down. There is, of course, the possibility to file a counter-notice, which would enable the author to challenge Adobe’s assertions of infringement (if that’s who sent the notice) and allow the content to go back up, at least for a while.
However, it is extremely unlikely the author of the tutorial would be prepared to file a counter-notice because that would mean a) identifying him or herself (with a statement including “name, address, and telephone number, and a statement that you consent to the jurisdiction of federal district court for the judicial district in which the address is located”) and b) exposing themselves to a potential lawsuit if the sender wanted to make a point.
This leads, of course, to the inevitable conclusion. Few people who write this kind of tutorial want to be exposed or find themselves on the end of a lawsuit, whether they believe they have the law on their side or not. For most people, expensive lawsuits are not fun and the fight for freedom of speech and access to information often stop when the bills come flooding in.
So, with no counter-claim forthcoming, the tutorial stays down and Reddit keeps its own safe harbor protections, ready to fight another day.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. Adobe trying to protect its content? Reddit responding to copyright takedown demands? Piracy tutorial creators not wanting to be part of a lawsuit? A heated debate over freedom of speech? It’s just another day at the office in the copyright world.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the /r/piracy sub-Reddit now has another copyright complaint to add to the increasing tally, despite the best efforts of its moderators who, like Reddit’s admins, may soon have tough choices to make about what content can stay and what must go.
Adobe did not respond to TorrentFreak’s request for comment.